The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power

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Macmillan, Mar 5, 2013 - Biography & Autobiography - 357 pages

The first inside account to be published about Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state, anchored by Ghattas's own perspective and her quest to understand America's place in the world

In November 2008, Hillary Clinton agreed to work for her former rival. As President Barack Obama's secretary of state, she set out to repair America's image around the world—and her own. For the following four years, BBC foreign correspondent Kim Ghattas had unparalleled access to Clinton and her entourage, and she weaves a fast-paced, gripping account of life on the road with Clinton in The Secretary.

With the perspective of one who is both an insider and an outsider, Ghattas draws on extensive interviews with Clinton, administration officials, and players in Washington as well as overseas, to paint an intimate and candid portrait of one of the most powerful global politicians. Filled with fresh insights, The Secretary provides a captivating analysis of Clinton's brand of diplomacy and the Obama administration's efforts to redefine American power in the twenty-first century.

Populated with a cast of real-life characters, The Secretary tells the story of Clinton's transformation from popular but polarizing politician to America's envoy to the world in compelling detail and with all the tension of high stakes diplomacy. From her evolving relationship with President Obama to the drama of WikiLeaks and the turmoil of the Arab Spring, we see Clinton cheerfully boarding her plane at 3 a.m. after no sleep, reading the riot act to the Chinese, and going through her diplomatic checklist before signing on to war in Libya—all the while trying to restore American leadership in a rapidly changing world.

Viewed through Ghattas's vantage point as a half-Dutch, half-Lebanese citizen who grew up in the crossfire of the Lebanese civil war, The Secretary is also the author's own journey as she seeks to answer the questions that haunted her childhood. How powerful is America really? And, if it is in decline, who or what will replace it and what will it mean for America and the world?


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User Review  - porch_reader - LibraryThing

Kim Ghattas, a BBC Foreign Correspondent who covered the State Department during Hillary Clinton's time as Secretary of State, grew up very aware of American foreign policy. As a child in war-torn ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - lincolnpan - LibraryThing

This is simply a fabulous book. Critics may argue that it lacks depth in foreign policy or that it does not provide a detailed biography of Clinton's time as Secretary of State. The book is first off ... Read full review



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About the author (2013)

Who Do You Call?

The armored black Cadillac stood waiting in the horseshoe driveway outside 3067 Whitehaven Street, in northwest Washington. Inside the three-story Georgian house, last-minute preparations were under way ahead of a first day at work. Two women talked through their schedule, checked that their BlackBerries were in their handbags, applied a last dab of lipstick. For the umpteenth time, Fred Ketchem went over the route for his package in his head. In his left ear, he could hear the chatter of his team along the way: the road was still clear. He checked alternative routes again, just in case. Until just a few weeks ago, he had been responsible for the safety of three thousand people implementing American foreign policy in one of the world’s most dangerous diplomatic missions—Baghdad. Now, he was charged with the security of America’s top diplomat. He had to remind himself that this wasn’t Iraq. There would be no hair-trigger checkpoints, no bearded gunmen, no roadside bombs planted along the way; the only hazards here were fire trucks and car accidents. Even so, he wanted the first day, the first drive, to be as smooth as possible. Standing in the crisp January cold, Fred kept his eyes on the portico. A few miles away, in a building that looked like a remnant of Soviet architecture, the crowd was gathering.

It was just a few minutes past nine in the morning on January 22, 2009, when the dark door between the two white columns swung open and a middle-aged woman with short ash-blond hair, wearing a coffee-brown woven wool pantsuit and kitten heels, emerged. She walked down the steps to the car, a young statuesque woman with flowing jet-black hair following closely behind her.

“Good morning, Fred!” said Hillary Clinton.

“Good morning, Madame Secretary.”

“Thank you for being here on our first day. We’re going to be very busy in the coming few years.”

Fred opened the rear right door for his new boss before getting into the front passenger seat. Huma Abedin, Hillary’s longtime aide, got in on the other side. Otis, the trusted government driver who had ferried Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell around the city, was at the wheel. The package, the now-full Cadillac sandwiched between a black SUV leading in front and two following, headed down the hill to Foggy Bottom. When the Department of State chose the area as its home in 1947, the swampy fog had long since dissipated from the banks of the Potomac. As the government redeveloped the area, the industrial slum, smoke stacks, and tenement dwellings at the southwestern edge of the nation’s capital gradually gave way to more government offices, luxury residential buildings such as the curved Watergate complex, and the boxlike white marble Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. But the area’s name had stuck, an inadvertent reminder of the fog of information that American diplomats often had to swim through to make their decisions.

That morning, the skies were a bright blue, and Hillary’s mind was clear. She felt excited about her new job, expectant about the contribution she could make to her country, and determined to tackle the daunting challenges facing America around the world. The chatter of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition news program provided a background hum as she went over the day’s schedule with Huma one more time.

Clinton had spent the past few weeks preparing for her Senate confirmation hearing as secretary of state in Barack Obama’s cabinet. She had to lay out her vision for American diplomacy and leadership around the world while demonstrating her loyalty to the new president, her former rival. But she also had to absorb vast amounts of information to prove she knew all the issues. It was like preparing for the bar exam again. On the campaign trail, Obama had reduced her foreign policy experience to sipping tea with foreign leaders as a First Lady. She was not exactly a neophyte but neither was she a seasoned diplomat, so the learning curve was steep. But Hillary had always known how to be a star pupil. She nailed questions about the more obscure, dry pet subjects of her former Senate colleagues and brought them to life as though she’d spent years thinking about Arctic policy and mineral-rich countries. She talked about cruise ships sailing past Point Barrow because of melting ice and Botswana’s great stewardship of its diamond riches. She outwonked all the wonks in the Senate room by mastering all the details. Clinton also explained how she envisaged the exercise of American power: it had to be “smart.” Not just soft diplomacy, with a focus on development or just hard military power, but a combination—an updated, global version of the Marshall Plan. “Smart power” was a concept coined by political scientists like Joseph Nye but had never been implemented methodically before.

Hillary couldn’t remember the last time she’d had some real time off. She had gone from being First Lady to running for senator, then jumped from the daily business of the Senate to the campaign trail to her new, unexpected job. The race for the Democratic nomination had been bruising, hurtful, and ugly. She had been defeated and discredited by her loss despite the millions of loyal voters who had backed her. Campaigning for Barack Obama on the shoulders of such loss had just added to her exhaustion. Obama had urged her to accept the job with unusual candor, telling Clinton he needed her, but serving her former nemesis involved a bracing lesson in humility. Clinton didn’t know how the relationship with Obama would work out, but she knew what a president needed—team players. Her Girl Scout instincts kicked in. She was on the team and she wanted the whole team to look good. She wanted America to look good again. Hillary was ready to play, but she was also ready for some red-carpet treatment, some respect, and some camera attention to soothe her campaign wounds. New challenges invigorated her. The adrenaline had kicked in, and she felt and looked energized, ready for her grand entrance.

The package pulled up outside the main entrance of the State Department. Fred opened the car door for the secretary of state. The crowd erupted in cheers.

“Hello, hello,” she said in her booming voice as she stepped out of the limousine. She held her hands above her head, clapping, smiling, and began to shake hands with the senior officials who stood on the red carpet to welcome her. Clinton walked the rope line, greeting her new staff, shaking hands with some of them. One man screamed “Yeah, Yeah!” as though he’d just won something. She shook hands with the two guards standing by the glass doors before walking into the Harry S. Truman building and being engulfed in a crowd of hundreds of State Department employees. Colin Powell, a deeply respected and personable former general, had been greeted with applause in the State Department lobby when he arrived in 2001, and even Condoleezza Rice had received an unexpectedly warm welcome in the midst of the Iraq debacle in 2005.

But no one could pack a room almost half the size of a soccer field like Hillary. A polarizing, controversial politician, she was also a celebrity with the ability to elicit fervent support and admiration. The three-story-high lobby of the State Department echoed with rapturous applause, punctuated with cries of “We love you, Hillary!” Across the whole floor and the steps leading to the mezzanine on either side, dozens of people craned their necks, stood on their toes, or leaned over the glass-and-aluminum railing to catch a glimpse of her. People waved their cell phones to snap pictures, and camera crews beamed the event to television networks around the country and beyond. Hillary waded through the human mass pressed against thirty-foot-tall marble and granite columns. Three diplomatic security agents cleared the way in front of her, Fred and another agent following behind. Even a friendly crowd of overexcited Foreign Service officers could crush the secretary. She smiled, excited but poised, shook hands, paused to speak to those who didn’t let go quickly enough.

In the State Department lobby, there were young women who had voted for her in the primaries and older women who’d always admired her as a trailblazer for women’s rights and a fighter who had defied the odds and overcome adversity in her personal life. There were those who always voted for a Democrat. And then there were all the others too—American diplomats and civil servants, men and women, who had felt sidelined during almost eight years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and were demoralized by the damage that the Bush administration’s high-handed foreign policy had inflicted upon America’s image. When Clinton made it to the landing of the steps leading to the mezzanine, Steve Kaskent, a representative of the Foreign Service union, introduced her to some of her twenty thousand new employees, joking that it looked like they were all crammed in the space below them. No one even tried to hide their relief that the country was moving on.

“Both you and the president have decried the neglect that the Foreign Service and the State Department have suffered in recent years,” he said. “No one knows better than the people in this room and our colleagues around the world how true that is. We are thrilled to have you here.”

In the crowd below, Lissa Muscatine looked around her and smiled, pleased to see her longtime friend bathed in affection and appreciation, a welcome change after almost two years of searing battles and disappointments. Muscatine had been Hillary&

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